US men breathe a deep sigh of relief with 4-0 win over Panama

Jozy Altidore celebrates after scoring a goal against Panama during the first half of a World Cup qualifier against Panama. (John Raoux/Associated Press)

ORLANDO — These have been restless times around the U.S. soccer community, what with the men’s national team in danger of missing the World Cup for the first time in some three decades and mounting burden to win the final two qualifiers in a sprint to the finish.

Pressure alleviated.

With Christian Pulisic in electrifying form and Jozy Altidore pocketing two goals, the Americans strengthened their standing in the six-nation scramble Friday with a 4-0 victory over Panama before a sellout crowd of 25,303 at Orlando City Stadium.

The United States (3-3-3, 12 points) overtook Panama (2-3-4, 10) for the third and final automatic World Cup berth from the CONCACAF region. In all likelihood, Bruce Arena’s rejuvenated squad will need only a draw at last-place Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday to secure passage to Russia next summer and an eighth consecutive trip to soccer’s quadrennial party.

“We needed a win,” Pulisic said, “but the job is not done.”

The lopsided result also provided a cozy cushion in the first tiebreaker (goal differential), leaving both Panama and Honduras (2-3-3) needing to win their final matches by inconceivable margins. The United States is

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